Editors' pick

Mommy Queerest

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Editorial Review

'Mommy Queerest': Solid Gold

By Peter Marks
Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Judy Gold talks in her new one-woman show, "Mommy Queerest," about the moment she and stand-up comedy found each other. It happened during college, when as part of a holiday game she was required to get up in front of her roommates and friends with a microphone and make fun of every one of them.

Of such larks are fateful connections made, for Gold, the brassy progeny of a New Jersey suburban Jewish family, is authentically uproarious, the sort of compulsively entertaining type who'd keep you laughing even holding court at a corner table in a diner at 2 in the morning.

She is taking the expanded, music-added version of her latest piece for an inaugural spin at Theater J, and it proves a more vivid, and more tickling occasion than her last show, "25 Questions for a Jewish Mother," performed at Theater J in 2008. That prior production had an arty conceit, in which Gold tried to speak in the voices of other Jewish women she'd interviewed. It turns out she's at her very best when she simply kicks back and converses with us in her own.

The voice is actually an amalgamation: It belongs both to her and her mother, Ruth, from whom Gold clearly has inherited a big mouth -- and whose bottomless sense of outrage the comedian mines for consistently hilarious effect. ("We had two types of communication," she reports, "screaming and not talking to each other.") As we come to appreciate through "Mommy Queerest," the omnipresent tensions of the Gold household honed a comic performer's ability to conjure life as an opera of perceived slights and exaggerated anxieties.

"Mommy Queerest" is a cheeky reference to Gold's life as a lesbian mother of two sons, whom she raises with a former partner (and who after their breakup moved to another floor of her building on the Upper West Side) as well as with her new partner, a psychotherapist from Westchester. It also, of course, compels you to think of the Tyrannosaurus rex of American motherhood, Joan Crawford -- though reading between the lines of Gold's piece, you understand the maternal commodity of monstrous proportions that she is really dealing with here is love.

Gold shares the stage with a piano and a screen, the latter used for photos of the families that meant the most to her -- her own and the ones she was addicted to, on television. From "The Partridge Family" to "All in the Family," sitcom clans informed her upbringing and even her view of success: a running gag in "Mommy Queerest" has her at each phase of her adult life pitching to utterly uninterested TV executives a half-hour comedy about her gay family.

This gives Gold the intermittent opportunity to dash to the piano and plunk out the theme songs of "Gilligan's Island" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Welcome Back, Kotter." (What cosmic force has ordained that these lyrics stay forever fresher in the memory than do, say, the opening lines of Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales"?) Naturally, Gold's dead-in-the-cradle sitcom, called "It's Jewdy's Show!," has a theme song of its own, whose refrains Gold sings with unapologetic gusto.

As staged by Amanda Charlton and co-written by Gold and Kate Moira Ryan, "Mommy Queerest" doesn't depart all that dramatically from the tradition of the Improv or Caroline's. What distinguishes it is the brisk wit and genuine charm of its earthy star.